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Ready to roll at the polls

Independence Township Clerk Shelagh VanderVeen poses with some of the Sashabaw Middle School seventh graders who gave plain cardboard "voting booths" a more patriotic look. The extra booths will be used to help accomodate the large voter turnout expected next week. (click for larger version)
October 29, 2008 - Armed with borrowed computers, makeshift booths, extra election inspectors and a bounty of ballots, local officials are ready for a big turnout at the polls next week.

In any community, said Springfield Township Clerk Nancy Strole, those setting out to cast a ballot in the Nov. 4 General Election can prepare in a number of ways.

"Those who are voting for the first time, or are not regular voters, can contact the local clerk's office or check online to make sure they're registered, and to identify the proper precinct," she said. "New voters who did not cast a ballot in January or August will have to produce valid photo identification."

Strole, who's expecting a turnout of around 80 percent, said she added an additional election inspector to help handle lines at each precinct.

About 10,400 residents are registered to vote in Springfield Township; about 27,000 appear in Independence Township poll books and 817 in Clarkston.

"Take an advanced look at the ballot, too," Strole advised. "The more a voter can educate him or herself in advance, the less time they'll spend at the polls. It's a very long ballot, with three proposals; two state and one county."

Avoiding early or late polling hours can also help reduce wait time.

Polls are open from 7 a.m-8 p.m. Typically, election inspectors work through an early backlog of voters who begin lining up outside around 6:15 a.m., Strole said, and long lines begin form again around 4 p.m.

In Independence Township, seniors from Clarkston High School will be on hand at each precinct to help voters get to the right place.

"It could be a record turnout," said Clerk Shelagh VanderVeen. "A lot of times people come in and they'll swear they've been voting in that location for years, but it turns out they're at the wrong precinct."

VanderVeen said her staff was expecting long lines, lots of calls and a large number of first-time voters.

The students, working on computers borrowed from Clarkston Community Schools, will be able to enter a name, pull up information and direct voters the proper precinct.

VanderVeen also said she ordered enough ballots to accommodate a 100 percent turnout.

"I never want to run out of ballots," she said, noting the township has registered 839 new voters just since August. "It seems wasteful, but that would be a clerk's worst nightmare."

And, while each precinct usually has two poll books with voters divided into A-L and M-Z, the alphabet of names will instead be divided into three books to help reduce lines.

"I hope it will help lower the stress level," she said. "We could have emotions running high. I always want people to come in and realize those election workers have a really a big job and a long day."

Although most voters are patient and understanding at the polls, she said, tempers occasionally flare.

"Sometimes somebody's having a bad day, or they're late for work, or they get impatient," she said. "Suddenly you've got normally nice people not behaving nicely."

Strole agreed.

"Election inspectors are extremely dedicated," she said. "They undergo significant training and work hard. It's a difficult position because it's a very, very long day, usually 16-18 hours," she said. "It may look like they are nice people who just appeared to sit there at the polls, but election administration has become very burdensome."

Although election inspectors are paid a stipend for their service, Strole said money is not the motivating factor.

"They all do the job in service to the community and out of a sense of being part of the community," she said. "Give them a thank you."

Call the Independence Township Clerk's office at 248-625-5111; in Springfield Township call 248-846-6510; in Clarkston call 248-625-1559. For sample ballots, registration and polling information and other election questions, visit the Michigan Voter Information Center at www.Michigan.gov/vote.

Staff writer
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